Today was a glorious February day with searing sunshine, and I spent it picking up rubbish with friends.
And it was brilliant.
We joined the indefatigable Limerick Riverpath Volunteers who organised a Spring Clean of the canal banks between the city and the University of Limerick. It’s a lovely spot, made even more beautiful by the blinding February sunshine. It was surprisingly fun spending three hours picking up rubbish, there was great camaraderie and there is something satisfying about doing something physical with tangible results
The canal joins the City with the University 4km away and the path is popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. You can read an account of today’s cleanup on the Limerick Riverpath Volunteers website (including a description of some of the random things we found!), and Brian Leddin has an interesting post from one of last year’s cleanups on what a beautiful and useful amenity the Park Canal is. But what struck me today wasn’t the rubbish, but the people.
There were over 30 people at today’s cleanup. On the face of it we were perfectly reflective of Irish society: some pensioners, families with kids, students, and all ages in between. But there was one difference: according to the 2011 census in Limerick City, less than 14% of the population have a nationality other than Irish. Yet by my reckoning, around half of the volunteers today were from outside Ireland.
The symbolism is stark – ‘foreigners’ turning out to collect our soiled nappies, cider cans and all the other detritus that Irish people like to throw away on our nature sites.
It’s a powerful slap in the face to the those who complain about people from outside Ireland who choose to come and live here. My friend Carla got chatting to a lovely Romanian student, here on an Erasmus programme studying at the University of Limerick. It later turned out she had only been here a few days. When asked had she done this sort of thing before, she said:
Not here but I have joined cleanups back home. They weren’t as bad as this though.
I am humbled that people who aren’t Irish would volunteer their Sunday to clean up our mess. It’s a reminder of how much our country has been enriched by ‘foreigners’ who have come to settle here. It’s maybe not surprising that they’re making a disproportionately positive impact on our society, but it is easily forgotten. I hope we never forget how lucky we are to have them here.